The pain of penance
The pain of penance
After Yuan got the hang of it, the E.C wasn't that difficult to steer. It was frustratingly, abhorredly and mind numbingly slow however. Once it'd reached its top speed, it felt like they were drifting through the ocean at a snails pace. Once they were a safe distance away from the Grand Tethe'alla bridge, Yuan made good on his promise to Gesea and summoned a dull torchlight spell.
"Which direction do we need to go?" Gesea asked, looking at Sheelos.
"Oh, right! Gimme a sec." Sheelos reached into her garb and felt around for a minute until she found and brought out a folded piece of parchment. Unfolding it and holding it toward the torchlight, Lloyd saw it was a map. Instead of seeing the familiar continents and areas that made up Sylvarant though, he saw only a few semi-familiar patches. He recognised the Gaoracchia Forest that led to Ozette and Altessa's house; Sybak, the research city; and the Grand Tethe'alla bridge that led to Meltokio and the Fooji mountains.
Sheelos placed her finger on the mapped sea area just to the south of the bridge. "That's around abouts where we are." She traced her fingers further south and then to the east where she stopped at the most southern corner of the continent. Mountain symbols ran their way along the middle of the continent from one end to the other. She tapped her finger there. "We should be able to enter the Toize Valley Mine from this side of the mountains to search for the ore for Colette's Rune Crest." Her hand started to shake and she took a deep breath and traced it all the way to the north. "Then we can go here. To..to Volt's temple."
Lloyd looked at her and felt like slapping himself. She and Yuan had managed to distract him from his question about Volt earlier in the sewer when he had started by asking about Undine. Since they likely had time to sit around and be bored until they got to the next region, now seemed like as good of a chance as any. "Sheelos, about V-ooof!"He stopped when he felt the cold slosh of water against his back. Everyone in the E.C scrambled up to their knees as a wave crashed against it. Another wave crashed from the other side, drenching Sheelos and pushing her into Gesea by its pure force alone.
"What's going on?" Gesea asked, righting her. "I didn't think the water would be this rough."
"You're right," Yuan agreed. "It shouldn't be. Something's definitely wrong here." Another rolling wave crashed and drenched the party.
"I don't think this was a very good idea," Gesea motioned, squeezing water from her pink hair. "We chose a bad night to get away."
Even though she said that, Lloyd was sure that she knew they hadn't been left with much of a choice. They couldn't go back to Meltokio or Sybak. The next closest option was Mizuho or Ozette. Just as he was considering suggesting the possibility of beaching the E.C on the south-eastern continent and hoping that it didn't get damaged in the rocks, Sheelos let out a gasp. Gesea did the same. Yuan cursed something and Noishe whined loudly. Only Colette remained as silent and emotionless as always. Lloyd whirled around to greet the reason for the commotion. An enormous wave three times the size of the ones that had been battering them around so far was coming right for them, gaining height as it ripped closer.
"Yuan!" he called. "Can't you steer this thing any faster?"
"If I could, I would!" the Cerberus snapped at him. Lloyd could see his hand on the throttle and that it had already been pulled as far to the right as they could probably go without being tipped into the ocean. The wave would be on them in a second. He briefly looked at Gesea before he closed his eyes and waited for impact. She was muttering something to herself. Right when he thought the wave would hit them, he heard "Get them!" and then a kind of fizzling sound.
Sheelos cheered Gesea's name happily and he opened his eyes to see a shining white wave hovering over them. "Whoah!" He looked at Gesea. "Did you just freeze a wave!?"
"I..it was nothing," she replied modestly.
He laughed and noogied her hair. "That's so cool. How did you learn to do all this stuff anyway?"
"I studied," she answered back with a teasing grin on her lips, covering her head to stop his assault. "You should try it some time Lloyd."
"I know, I know," he admitted, letting out a sigh and then piping up when he came to another realisation. "We're learning so much on this trip though! We're learning about a whole new world. That's gotta count for something, right?" He looked at Yuan, hoping to get a confirmation. He was steering them slowly around the elven-made iceberg though and even if he had heard him, he looked too busy to answer.
Another wave chopped over the edge of the E.C just as they made their way clear of the frozen wave sculpture and Noishe let out another whine of complaint. As water filled it, the E.C uttered a low rumble from somewhere beneath their seats. Yuan looked back at them. "I don't think we're going to have much luck going this way for much longer. The current's changed direction and we're being pushed back faster than we can move."
Lloyd pivoted around and studied the area behind them. Yuan was right. The Fooji mountains were much more visible than they'd been just a little earlier. He could even make out the faint outline of what looked like a House of Salvation along the shoreline. "What can we do?" he asked. Sheelos pulled out the map to Tethe'alla again. Water fell from it as she unfolded it, but it didn't look too harmed. Lloyd let his mind wander a bit at the curious thought that some of the first pirates and sailors must have come up with the idea of making maps water resistant since they relied on them so heavily.
Sheelos dragged him out of his day/night dream by speaking as she squiggled her fingers through a winding crevice between the region that housed Ozette, Mizuho and Sybak, and the new one they hadn't visited yet. The path led out to another block of ocean for a short time before it circled a smaller island which housed another city. It was sort of hard to make out the small lettering on the map in the dim light, but he thought he could read the word 'Altamira'. The name rung a bell and he remembered Tabatha quoting it when she had been mentioning where they needed to go in order to help Colette. The name of the town was also apparently the name of the continent.
"Wouldn't that be a bit dangerous to go through?" Gesea asked. She cocked her head to their left and squinted to try and see where the opening between the regions sat.
"I don't think we're going to have much choice!" Yuan said, sounding panicked all of a sudden. He pressed a few buttons on the control panel frantically and a small hatch opened up behind his seat. "Grab the oars!" he ordered, jumping out of his seat and pulling one out through the gap. Lloyd didn't dare question the bark in his voice and was the first to lean forward to get a grip on one of the oars inside. He leaned slightly forward as he did to try and see what had gotten the usually calm and collected half-elf in a tizz.
The water current had picked up and just ahead had started to circle around itself. The roar of waves loudened the further they got pulled in. He tossed an oar to Gesea and Sheelos and quickly stuck his own into the water. At first it seemed like they weren't moving anywhere, but when Gesea started making larger strokes with her oar, the E.C began to budge away from the whirlpools. "Don't stop until we get to the pass," Yuan said in-between methodical strokes of his own.
The Tethe'alla Tower of Salvation loomed in the distance to their left, well and truly above the tallest tip of a grassy mountain range. Lloyd couldn't take his eyes off of it. Memories of the pain he'd felt when Remiel betrayed them and the blank, uncaring feeling for the world he'd experienced soon after that point came flooding back. After some struggling, they'd won their upstream battle and gained enough force to let Yuan drop his ore and take the controls again. With Yuan's torchlight on their side, they had found the gap between the two continents and were now working on weaving through. The stretch of water between the two continents was larger than the map showed, so Lloyd had been able to get bored of travel and trail into his own mind.
Thinking about the tower spurred some irresistible questions and he turned to Sheelos. The red head smiled coyly at him until he asked his first question of the series he'd had planned for Yuan. "Who knows that you're actually the Chosen?" he asked. He looked at Yuan. "Yuan was pretending to be the Chosen in Castle Tethe'alla too."
"I guess you could say you guys are of the privileged few," Sheelos answered. "Only the King himself knows Yuan's role as Cerberus and my true identity. All other figures, including the Pope, believe that he is actually the Chosen."
"So why are you in hiding Sheelos?" Gesea asked. She looked at Lloyd. "When Col was the Chosen-"
"I still am," Lloyd butted in. "Remember? I have wings and everything."
Gesea bit her lip and bowed her head in apology to him. "Sorry. It's just since we've been telling everyone Colette's Sylvarant's Chosen, it sort of feels like it's the truth."
"You get so used to living a lie that you start to believe it," Yuan reiterated. "Sounds pretty familiar."
"So is that what's it's like to be the Cerberus?" Lloyd asked. Yuan didn't answer though, instead deciding to concentrate on making sure they didn't beach the elemental cargo into the sand to their right or the rock pools to their left.
"Yuan's ancestors have always protected the Chosen of Tethe'alla," Sheelos explained. "All throughout history his family have found the Chosen when they've been born in various parts of the world. One way or another, Mizuho has always housed the real Chosen and celebrated the Cerberus."
"Hey, that sounds kind of like Iselia," Lloyd thought aloud in realisation. It was impossible not to see the similarities. "Even though the Chosen of Regeneration are usually born in other places, they usually find their way to Iselia where they're visited by an angel and told they're the Chosen." He squinted and tried to remember the angel that had visited him when he'd been a toddler. It was just as impossible as trying to remember the faces or names of his parents.
"Except now we know that it was all for some grand plan Cruxis has to resurrect the Goddess Martel," Sheelos muttered, clenching her fist. "All us Chosen's have been all this time are pawns in some twisted plan."
"We have to stop them," Lloyd agreed. He looked at Colette. "First we have to start with what we can do. We can get the inhibitor ore to help Colette and then get Volt so we can power the rheairds."
"What will we do after that?" Gesea asked.
"I don't know," he answered truthfully. "I just kinda figured if we stay positive it'll all come together eventually."
The hull of the E.C made the concerning low groaning sound again. Lloyd sprung into high alert mode and looked around. Sheelos, Yuan and Gesea did the same. The bottom of the ship vibrated more and more for some reason.
"Watch out!" Sheelos exclaimed suddenly. Lloyd only had time to turn his head before a large wave crashed into them from behind. It filled the E.C water until it reached the top, soaking the group once again. He helped Gesea up. She had been knocked flat by the tyrannical wave and was spluttering and coughing water. When he was sure she was alright, he looked at the still and unblinking Colette.
"Uh guys..." Sheelos coughed. "I think I may have worked out why this is happening to us!"
Lloyd, Gesea and Yuan adjusted their gazes to the stern to see a familiar blue woman with purple tattoos. One look at the signature flowing purple hair and legs that connected into a curved tail was all they needed to determine the summon spirit Undine was paying them a visit. She floated above the water and looked at Sheelos with an intimidating stare. Lloyd went to open his mouth to address her when the spirit pointed behind them and disappeared in a flurry of colourful bubbles. As she did, Lloyd noticed that the E.C had stopped moving completely.
The group whipped their heads back to the front at Yuan's cry and saw a concerning sight. Tornadoes made of water slowly drifted up from the sea, circling higher and higher to the sky. The E.C groaned louder and sunk downward as the giant water disasters grew to enormous volumes and heights, all circling closer and closer to them as they did. Yuan's aura glowed a bright blue-white until he yelled "freeze lancer!"
An enormous line of magic appeared above their transportation for a second. Yuan waved his hand through the air in a slicing motion and the magic followed his movement straight into the closest water tornado. It froze from the bottom up but stopped freezing halfway up its length. The remaining water lost its strength and fell apart back down to the sea below. As soon as he had finished casting, Yuan started again.
Lloyd heard Gesea doing the same and looked at Sheelos. The Chosen of Tethe'alla looked horrified when he caught her gaze. "Is this because you didn't finish what you started with Undine?" he questioned loudly over the noise of the water. Judging by her wide-eyed reaction, he realised he was right. He bowed his head in understanding and looked back at the two half-elves doing their best to protect the E.C. He didn't dare say anything to either of them and break their concentration. If they couldn't freeze all of the tornadoes, they would pretty much be toast. Soggy toast.
A sudden coldness flew past him from Gesea. He turned his head and jolted back when he saw one of the giant wave tornadoes centimetres from the E.C. It froze from the magic Gesea shot and sent a torrent of still water from the top raining down on the party. She eyed Yuan immediately after finishing. "How are we going to get through?"
"There's only one way," Yuan replied. He closed his eyes and his aura glowed a bright orange. Noishe next to him suddenly barked loudly, breaking his concentration. The floor of the E.C rumbled more fiercely than it had ever previously and they found themselves rising up into the air inside a water tornado that had formed under them. Lloyd quickly grabbed the hand of Colette. Her pink wings emerged from her back but she didn't seem to know what was happening. With his other hand he gripped the side of the E.C, Gesea and Sheelos doing the same.
"Hold on!" Yuan exclaimed the second before they were finally thrown free of the whirling vortex and straight over a set of six tornado icicles.
Lloyd closed his eyes and waited for the drop, somewhat glad that they hadn't eaten in a while. The E.C didn't fall very far until it was caught by another swirling water tornado and they were sent circling straight up to the top and flying again. The screams of his friends filled the air as the E.C flew upward, circled a little and then tipped toward the northern tip of the new continent. Lloyd held onto Colette and the E.C with all his might, unsure what would happen if he summoned his wings and flew to safety. Gravity kicked in quickly and the E.C turned bottom up. During their quick descent to the land, he saw a forest of trees and a moat of water. When they drew closer he realised what was going to happen."Deep breaths!" he yelled. The crystal clear blue water below drew closer and closer. At the last possible minute, he took a deep gasp of air and held it, waiting for impact.
It was painful, but nothing like what he'd felt in the Tower of Salvation. He hesitantly opened his eyes as he let go of the beyond-repair E.C, knowing that they'd be dragged under further if he didn't. His eyes didn't burn thankfully, meaning they'd been lucky enough to land in fresh water. He looked at Colette. She was still holding on to him. For a gut wrenching moment, he thought she hadn't heard him order everyone to take a breath; but when he saw that her cheeks looked a bit puffier than normal, he almost let out his own breath.
"Okay Colette," he thought, squeezing her hand tightly and kicking his legs to push them out from the downward suction of the E.C. "You have to help me swim. I can't do it with just me."
He felt a faint squeeze of the hand from her and again almost let out his deteriorating breath. "I need to act quickly."
With a quick glance downward, he saw Yuan. Everything looked in slow motion. He looked up and saw Gesea and Sheelos paddling and the legs of Noishe already at the surface. Flapping one arm around and kicking his legs, he started to swim upward. At first it seemed like he and Colette were making progress until he noticed that the E.C hadn't fallen past them yet and they were now close to being side by side with the swimming Yuan. His chest was starting to hurt, but it was nothing compared to other pain he was starting to experience in his back.
A shoot of sudden sharp pain from the small of his back to the tips of his shoulder blades made him cry out. The last of his breath left him and he quickly inhaled water. He scrambled and tried to push past the pain in his body to push himself up for air, but it was like he was stuck in a bubble and his efforts to swim weren't doing anything. Looking down, he stared in horror at Yuan. The half-elf had his eyes closed and had stopped moving. "Professor Yuan!"
The ex-professors name was the last coherent thing his brain could apparently muster before the urge to close his eyes overcame him. Getting out of the water seemed impossible. In the darkness he vaguely felt something tightening around his shoulders but nothing made sense. Everything felt vague. He blanked out and the world of gurgling water silenced.
"He still probably has water in his lungs!" a female voice yelled. She didn't sound like she was very close. "Do you know C.P.R?"
"I... I.." a tiny, freaked out voice trembled. "Of course I do. I just.."
"Then do it, for Martel's sake!" The girl barking the orders was Sheelos.
"R..Right," Gesea agreed.
Lloyd felt hands on his chest as his mind winked back into reality. He wanted to open his eyes and say something but his thoughts didn't seem like they wanted to connect to his actions just yet.
"That's right. I couldn't swim." He thought about the strange pain he'd felt when he'd been trying. "Are Colette and Yuan-" His mind went a different kind of blank when he felt someone part his lips and put theirs against his. Air entered his mouth and he suddenly felt the overwhelming urge to cough. He jolted up and opened his eyes autonomously before coughing water out onto some sand and looking up at very relieved looking Gesea. "L..Lloyd!" she exclaimed. "Are you okay?" She patted him on the back for a few seconds.
He nodded dizzily and heard the sounds of coughing from Yuan off in the distance. He immediately scanned the dark area for Colette. His eye caught on her glowing pink angel wings. She didn't look harmed; just stood there with the usual blank look in her eyes in-between their split party. He turned back to Gesea when he realised he'd forgotten to thank her. "You saved me, Gesea!"
She shook her hands in front of herself. "I just did what anyone would have done!"
Lloyd sniffed a little. His nose felt strange; like he had a sore throat in his nose. Other than that though, he felt normal. He stood from his spot in the sand and surveyed the area again, this time with a focus on the environment. As he'd seen while they'd been falling, there was a forest surrounded by a circle of water straight ahead. They were pretty far off target from memory. The sound of boots on sand came close and Yuan, Sheelos and Noishe joined Gesea and he, bringing a faint hovering light spell that Yuan had summoned again with them.
"You okay, my dashing darling?" the Tethe'allan Chosen asked, leaning down. "How many fingers am I holding up?" She showed him three digits.
"Three," he answered quickly.
"Wrong!" she lied. "I think I need to make sure you don't have any more water in those lungs of yours!" She said, her lips curling into a cat-like grin as she reached for him. He swiftly dodged her clutches and watched her put her hands on her hips in detest. "Unfair. I think if Gesea gets a chance with your lips, I should as well!" She nodded to herself, confident in her reasoning. "It's only fair. You don't know what you're missing until you try it with the premium grade!"
At Sheelos' statement, Gesea turned an appropriate shade of scarlet.
"Premium grade?" Lloyd felt bewildered. "There are different grades of lips?"
Yuan glared at Sheelos and she laughed. "What? I'm just saying! Gesea made the first move, so it's only natural that I try to checkmate!"
"W..what!?" Gesea shrieked, clenching one fist at Sheelos. "I did not make a 'move' on Lloyd!"
"I've gotta agree with Gesea," Lloyd nodded. "She saved my life." He touched his lips and an amusing thought came to mind. "I guess this means we're each others first kiss though!"
Gesea covered her face in embarrassment. "Don't say that Lloyd! That is very embarrassing!"
"No it isn't!" he laughed. "I'm glad it was my best friend rather than a Salvatorian I barely know."The moment the words left his mouth, he got to thinking about the fact that if he'd end up going back to Iselia, he'd inevitably meet his Salvatorian. Pre-Tower of Salvation, when he'd resigned himself to death, he hadn't given it a lot of thought. He'd always figured it was just a formality since the majority of Chosen's in history had gone on the Journey of Regeneration in their teens.
Nodding at hearing Yuan's suggestion of locating themselves amongst his thoughts, he stood under the magic light with the rest of the party and looked at Sheelos' map of Tethe'alla once again. He watched her trace her fingers around the continent they were now on for a few seconds before slipping back into his thoughts about his destiny.
As the Chosen, he was expected to reproduce with a specific bloodline. It was harder for the Church to determine the appropriate mate with the right bloodline for him because his parentage was unknown. He'd always partly hoped that they wouldn't find someone for him, but was also partly glad when the news that they had found a bloodline closest to his own came. The needles they'd poked him with to take more of his blood to be used in tests around the world had left him with a definite distaste for doctors, to say the least. Of course, all those test and worries might have also been for nothing too. There was no way he would go back to Iselia if they didn't accept Gesea back too.
"So where do we need to go from here?" he asked the group. When he was met with raised eyebrows, he figured he hadn't been paying enough attention.
"Basically, we're in for a long walk," Gesea answered, eventually taking pity on him.
"We'll need to set up camp for the evening," Yuan said. "It won't do us any good to break ankles or legs with unstable footing everywhere."
The party agreed; Lloyd mostly because he was feeling extremely tired and hungry after their ordeal. He dropped his pack and started to prepare the camp site along with the others.
A short time later..
Sheelos looked over the snoring Lloyd and Gesea. The moment their heads had hit the pillows (AKA Noishe's back and belly), they were out like lights. She glanced off to the small gathering of rocks where Yuan had wandered off to while she poked at the fire underneath the pot of soup she'd prepared. Deciding the dinner was fine to be left bubbling on its own, she stood from her spot and decided it was time.
"Yuan," she called as she approached. It wasn't surprising at all to see the blue haired half-elf fiddling with the ring on his Salvatorian finger and gazing at the starry night sky when she peered over the shortest of the trio of rocks at him. "Yu-an," she said again in syllables when he didn't answer.
The sly man flinched and looked up at her. "Sorry. You were calling me?"
"It's not like you to be lost in thought," she joked, raising her eyebrows up and down. "I've only ever seen you do that when you're troubled. That doesn't happen often since you know everything before it happens."
"You're imagining things, Chosen," Yuan replied. "If I'd known we'd break the E.C and Undine would test us in the life threatening way that she did, I would never have allowed us to get in the water."
Sheelos slapped him softly over the head, messing his perfectly pruned hair up. "Call me Chosen again and you'll feel the wrath of a woman scorned. Got me?"
"Right, right. I apologise. Now, you must have come here for some other reason than to jest."
"Of course." Sheelos gave him a concerned look. "I want to know why you can't swim."
"I would think that would be obvious," Yuan countered with a smirk.
Sheelos peered closer at his eyes and expression. "You're doing the question dodge thing again. It won't work on me." She shook one finger in disapproval. "I know too much, remember?"
The gears moving around in the brain behind Yuan's green eyes showed a small sign of defeat from him and she thought she'd won a skirmish until he opened his mouth. "Oh I see. You want an explanation," he replied.
She rolled her eyes at him and groaned. As if he hadn't realised what she was driving at already! His attitude sometimes drove her to think of all the horrible ways she could punish him- and not in the good way either. The thought that she was stuck with him popping up in various ways for pretty much the rest of her life if she continued to be the Chosen was pretty annoying too.
"I suppose I just never learned," Yuan answered simply after a bit.
Sheelos watched him for another few seconds before sitting back against the rocks beside him and heaving a sigh. "Fine, have it your way. Y'know, you're lucky the others don't know you well enough to know all the times you spurt lies out of that cunning mouth of yours."
"I think I should be offended," Yuan quipped. "There is a difference between lying and stretching the truth, for the record."
"Not to Lloyd and Gesea there isn't," Sheelos responded. "You'll hurt them too eventually if you keep them in the dark for much longer."
Yuan (as usual) didn't answer right away and frowned in thought. "Too?" he asked eventually, his voice no more than a low mutter. Sheelos stood from her spot and looked down at the bluenette. "I'm going back. Don't sit here too long. The bugs are biting."
With that, she left him to go tend to the pot that would boil over any second. Yuan stayed seated where he was, thinking over all that she had said. More importantly, he thought about what she hadn't said. He'd misjudged her intelligence before and promised himself he wouldn't do it a second time. With a reluctant sigh, he realised he had done just that.